In baggage claim at the Eindhoven airport in the south of The Netherlands, you heaved a sigh of relief when your backpack emerged on the conveyor belt. Though many Moroccans had flown there with you, all the way from Fez, you felt invisible, lost in a sea of tall Dutch people.
Reason for the relief: it is easier to travel in a country in which you resemble the people—not just culturally, but physically.
Well… you’re not going to split hairs. But to put it another way, here’s a list of the most challenging countries you’ve moved through, in company as well as all by your lonesome: Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria. And the easiest? Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
Now children… where should you place your Maria?
Norway! Beautiful Norway! The soil of which makes your DNA tremble with nostalgia. Summer of 2011 was the last time you saw that gorgeous, fjord-riddled landscape.
At the time, even though you look like a Viking, you assumed that in a “rich” country, hitchhiking would be more difficult, as richer nations seem to have trust issues. In countries like Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Romania, and Hungary, where the people are not rich, you were able to hitchhike with great ease; challenge presented itself in subtle ways, but nothing worth mentioning.
The ease with which you hitchhiked in those poorer countries led you to believe in the “richness factor”–you figured in less wealthy countries, people were actually more willing to share.
Well, this theory turned out to be inaccurate…
…because hitchhiking in Norway, the richest of all countries, was shockingly easy. To put it simply, you waited on average between 3 seconds and 7 minutes for a lift the last time you were there. You had but to suggest sticking out your thumb before some happy, naive Norwegian self-exclaimed, “Oh look! A hitchhiker! I shall stop for her!”
Not only did they stop, they took you out to eat, invited you into their homes, gave you the keys as they left town–“Just put them in the mail slot after you close the door.” Those silly, wonderful people! Many, many thanks to Ida and Stein-Erik (such a Viking name!) for taking you out of the rain, inviting you home, cooking you tacos, and giving you boxing lessons.
So yes, Norway was wonderful. Perhaps it’s just those sweet, silly, and super-rich people–or perhaps its because you look Norwegian.
You hoped such was the case, because now you were a long way away from the frustrations of Portugal and Spain, and you were excited by the prospect of hitchhiking in The Netherlands; not a single person there has mistaken you for anything other than a native Dutch woman.
Well… it wasn’t that easy. Perhaps simply looking like a people isn’t enough to determine hitchhiking success. You had a bitch of a time getting to Hilversum (a little town outside Amsterdam). Not only did the people refuse to stop, but the boys…
God damn it! You really want to stop writing about jerky boys. But come on! In three hours, you received more honks, blow-job gestures, “pussy lickers!”, and fake-outs–yes, fake-outs, in which the driver pretends he is going to stop and lets you run toward the car before speeding away–than you have in the last 6 months combined.
“It is way too early in the morning for this,” you grumbled.
Dutch boys? Wtf. Maybe you could have guessed that the culture of these “gentlemen in training” is repellent; while working in the south of France, demolishing 12th century buildings and framing sheds, you had the pleasure of working with a 19-year-old Dutch kid named Leonard. Leonard is the kind of boy who thinks it’s “funny” to sneak up on woman napping on a sofa and blow a trumpet directly into her ear. You were so pissed… you cried.
Anyway… you made it to your destination: Hilversum—a little town outside Amsterdam. Your difficulty in getting there might be slightly overrated, for Holland is packed with motorways going in all directions, which makes hitchhiking in a straight line a serious pain in the ass. You have no explanation for the rude Dutch boys beyond bad parenting; and even though the people were insulting that morning, never did it occur that you were standing in an optimal spot only to have everyone overlook you. Bad hitchhiking has two requirements: 1) you are in an optimal spot and people don’t stop; 2) the infrastructure is so bad that nobody can stop. That’s it. This is Spain; this is Portugal.
Okay, so you made it to Hilversum, and your stay there was fantastic. You managed to score an American woman (Sara) majoring in Gender Studies as a host, and the conversation exploded like a bubbling bottle of champagne. Talk at the speed of light because you can! Talk about all the things relevant and important to you! She gets you! She gets you!
And she had her thesis to write. Her thesis! Balls! Why now? There lie Amsterdam, just a stone’s-throw away, waiting for you to blow off a little steam. But there was no one to join you. Sara had her thesis. Even worse, your other contact, Niny–from Utrecht, met on The Camino—had left town for Italy just before you arrived. What to do?
Peace out, and come back later in a few months. Amsterdam would still be there in August. It was time to start the next leg of your journey—some seriously hard hitchhiking. The goal: to hitchhike to the very top of Norway, and then all the way back down, cut over to Sweden, then Finland, then Estonia and Latvia, Poland, Germany, and back to Amerstdam.
So now it was really the time to test your theory about hitchhiking. Does looking like a people have any influence? Is it something else? You’re going to figure it out, leg by leg.
So here it is:
HITCHHIKING AMSTERDAM TO COPENHAGEN IN 24 HOURS – NOTES/STATS FROM THE FIELD
(It was actually from Hilversum, NL to Kalundsborg, DK–900km)
- 11:00 – Leave host’s flat in Hilversum. Walk 5km to the edge of town.
- 12:00 – Park your bags on a narrow patch of grass next to ramp leading to the A1 motorway. Lift obtained in two minutes. Driver of utility van let you hop in the back. Katie gets very car sick. Too much coffee.
- 12:30 – Dropped at a service station on the motorway. Buy gasoline for your camping stove. Katie throws up. Finally amble to the exit of the service station. Hold up your sign. Lift obtained in three minutes. Run to the bathroom to tell Katie to finish puking and get into the truck.
- 12:35 – Driver’s name is Alexander, from Macedonia. He is a very, very tiny man, and he is new to truck driving. He helps lift your bags into the truck. You sit on his lower bunk, next two very fine titty calendars. You spend about 4 hours staring at areolas. Feel bad when you lean against one and accidentally tear it from the wall.
- 16:30 – Alexander leaves you at a rest stop just before Hannover, where you hope to catch northbound traffic towards Hamburg. Walk to the exit. Make a sign.
- 16:35 – Lift obtained in 5 minutes. A young German man pulls over abruptly, upon seeing your sign. “Hamburg?” he says. “Ja! Hamburg!” you respond. “Hamburg?” again. “Ya! Hamburg,” you confirm. He gets out, helps Katie put her bag in the trunk. She says, “You go to Hamburg?” He says, “Hamburg! Ja!’ All is good. You drive off.
- 16:38 – Learn he speaks no English. Learn he does not go to Hamburg. Learns he goes to Hannover. Cannot communicate.
- 16:42 – Confirm you are going to Hamburg. He searches for words. Lacks the vocabulary. You say, “Truck stop.” He says, “Ja! Truck stop! Many people go to Hamburg from there!” You are happy he understands. But you have your doubts.
- 16:50 – Shudder when you realize he will not be taking you to a truck stop. That he has taken you to the city center. He drops you in the middle of the city. “Umm….” you say. “You sure?” He responds, “Ja! Here, everyone get car for Hamburg. Here, 60% people… to Hamburg.” “Down which road?” you ask, unsure what he means, as he is parked in a public square. Communication barrier. You sigh, smile, and get out.
- 16:55 – Pace back and forth in the square, in disbelief. “Clearly that guy hasn’t ever hitchhiked.” Supposedly, you are in a student square where students obtain lifts. You fail to see how this works. “Fuck it. Let’s walk.” “Where?” Katie asks. You pull out your compass, find NNE, and point down a road. “This way.”
- 17:00 – “Excuse me! Spriekt du Engles?” you sputter. A man turns, surprised. “Ich wil autostop op Hamburg. War is der Autobahn?” Nice attempt at German, you suppose. He points down a street, “Cellar street! Then follow blue signs.”
- 17:10 – You are on Cellar street. You see no “blue signs.” Notice a heavily tattooed man exiting a shop front to light a cigarette. You ask him about the motorway to Hamburg. His buddy comes out of the shop—a huge fat guy with face tattoos and an entire front row of gold teeth. “Hamburg! Garble garble phlehm throat auw! German sounds.” They talk. More tattooed men join the discussion. You and Katie invite yourselves into the shop and politely refuse a Coke.
- 17:20 – A tattoo artist prints you a color map of Hannover, and the directions out of town to the northbound motorway. Then prints a large sign that reads: HAMBURG. You talk about tattoos for a while, show a few of yours, pee in their bathroom, fill your water bottle, strip off a layer, and clip on your bag. “Thank you very much for all of your help.” Begin your 5km walk out of town.
- 18:30 – “Hey!” you scream and wave, and then give chase to a black car that passes you on the street. “Maria, what are you doing?” Katie asks, embarrassed that a German man pushing a kinderwagen is also watching you chase cars. “He had H-H on his license plate.” That means HAMBURG, a tip you’d solicited from a driver back at a rest stop hours earlier, while you were killing time on Alexander’s “lunch break.”
- 18:36 – “Are you going to Hamburg?” a man asks. You look up and see a man standing next to a parked car—the plate reads: H-H. “Oh my god…” you say. “That worked?!” Chasing cars? “I didn’t see your sign. I was driving and then saw you chasing me from my rear mirror. I thought that perhaps it meant you wanted to go to Hamburg. There was no place to stop, so I drove here and waited.”
- 19:40 – Ride with the amazing nice man, Dennis, and talk about economics. He leaves you at a truck stop on the motorway near Hamburg. You and Katie dip carrots in your precious, Holland-sourced jar of peanut butter. The truck stop is full of trucks parked for the night. No private cars pass through.
- 20:00 – You call it a night, whip out your camping stove, and start to cook rice at a picnic table. “Denmark? You go to Denmark?” calls a truck driver from his window. You speak with him. “I go to Denmark, but tomorrow.” “What time?” you ask. “Five, or five-thirty or so.” Will he take two girls (illegal). “It is not a problem.” You agree to meet at five o’clock in the morning. His name is Hegle.
- 20:10 – Stove is lit, and rice is on. A trucker strolls by your table, starts to make conversation. His name is Ranier; he’s from Australia. You are happy to chat and non-chalantly tell him your travel story. He says he finishes his week tomorrow, and would you like some macaroni. Hell yes, you would, if he’s trying to get rid of it.
- 20:25 – Rainier comes back with a large container of homemade macaroni salad, a brand new bottle of Marmite, a couple coupons for fifty cents off truck stop coffee in Germany, and a beer. You give Katie the beer, gush over his gifts, offer him some of your poor-man’s rice, cabbage, and carrot stew. He politely refuses.
- 21:00 – Rainier is finished with his beer. Wants to get you another one. You say no thanks, Katie says yes. He disappears. Katie mutters as you clean up from dinner, “Damn! I should have asked him for an ice cream instead of a beer.”
- 21:05 – He returns with one beer and two pistachio ice-cream cones. You beam like a child. He wishes you goodnight and farewell.
- 21:30 – Beat through some trees, hop a wire fence, and pitch your tent under a canopy 50 feet from a truck. Bed time.
- 24:00 – Wake up to pee.
- 02:10 – Wake up to pee. Wtf. Truck doors slam, engines start. A couple guys begin “work.”
- 04:30 – The alarm on Katie’s digital watch beeps. Pack your stuff. Break down the tent.
- 04:50 – Drop bag at picnic table near Hegle’s truck. Go to the facilities. Hop a turn-stile to avoid paying 50 cents. Accidentally kick it. Cringe at the loud slamming noise. The facilities are marvelous.
- 05:00 – Climb aboard Hegle’s truck. He pours you steaming hot coffee. The conversation is lively for the first hour and a half.
- 07:00 – Disembark from Hegle’s truck at another truck stop, just over the Danish border. No traffic. Eat breakfast, waiting for the rest of the world to wake up and drive. Wait about an hour, catch the attention of another trucker.
- 08:05 – Leave truck stop. Drive about an hour to Kolding. Left near the motorway.
- 08:30 – Catch a ride in a van from a kindly older Danish man who has traveled much. Takes you 30 good kilometers around a complicated “corner” in your route. Leaves you near the motorway in a small town.
- 09:20 – Denied a lift from a car dropping off a friend right next to you. As the man collects his things, another car stops. You declare the man is not in your party and get in. Your driver is a younger man born in Israel to an American father and a Danish mother. He has lived in Denmark most of his life, but English is his first language.
- 09:55 – Left on the motorway by the young man, but there is no better option. You walk five minutes. A truck driver without a trailer sees you on his way home from his work week. You climb in. He offers you cookies and talks in a quirky, happy-go-lucky kind of way. He leaves you on the highway to Koldenburg. You have 40 kilometers to go. He gives you all of his cookies as a gift.
- 10:00 – Devour the cookies. Pee in some tall grass, within view of three different roads. Begin walking down the highway, and try to find a good waiting point. There is none. Too many small towns and other little highways diluting your odds. You walk.
- 11:00 – Stop walking after 3-4 kilometers. Katie parks her butt on a curb, exhausted. Sleepy. You hold up your sign. Get a lift in 5 minutes from a pretty Danish woman. She lets you borrow her phone. You call Grethe, your friend you met on The Camino, to confirm she is home. “You are here already!” she exclaims. Pretty Danish lady gives you professional tips on dental hygiene before dropping you off at the front door.
- Kilometers traveled: 900
- Total time: 24 hours
- Number of lifts: 10
- Number of semi-trucks: 3 + 1 (no trailer attached).
- Number of vans: 2
- Number of cars: 4
- Number of men vs. women: 9:1
- Number of uncomfortable situations: 0
- Number of insults from passing cars: 0
- Kilometers walked: about 14
- Hours of sleep: 6.5
- Average waiting time once at optimal waiting spot (including times affected by time of day): 2′ + 3′ + 5′ + 30′ + 60′ + 10′ + 20′ + 5′ + 3′ = 15.33‘
- Gifts: 1 map, 1 sign, 1 jar Marmite, 2 ice creams, 2 beers, 1 macaroni salad, 2 coupons, 4 fresh coffees, 1 cylinder of cookies.
Katie: “Hitchhiking sounds cool when you say it like that!”